Article / I detail photographer Christopher Herwig's hunt for Soviet bus stops.
The former Soviet Union is remembered as a bastion of uniformity—drab, awkward clothing, monotonous concrete buildings, pyramids of condensed milk cans on empty shelves. David Remnick, in his book Lenin’s Tomb, describes the “classic Soviet city” as “an urban mass indistinguishable from hundreds of others, with a Lenin Avenue and broad and pitted streets and apartment blocks so ugly and uniform that you could weep looking at them.” But there are exceptions to the rule. During the Brezhnev era, a period notorious for its repression
of creativity, architects and artists evaded the watchful state by designing what were considered “minor architectural forms”—playgrounds, pavilions, bus stops—in remote areas of the Soviet Union. These relics of artistic expression (some belonging to artists as famous as Georgia’s Zurab Tsereteli, who designed bus stops all over Abkhazia) had been largely neglected and forgotten. Then, last summer, the Canadian photographer Christopher Herwig published Soviet Bus Stops, the biggest and most diverse collection of bus stop photographs from the region. Twenty-two of these were on exhibit at the Harriman Institute from October 20 to December 20, 2014, and, next fall, a new edition of the book will be released by Fuel Publishing.
Herwig, who has no background in the region, first noticed the bus stops in 2002, while riding his bicycle from London to St. Petersburg. The trip took two months, and he spent much of it cycling through flat, barren territory. To pass the time, and to push the limits of his creativity, he tasked himself with producing one photo per hour. “I would not normally go out of my way to take a picture of a power line,” he says, “but when you only have five minutes left in the hour, that’s what you do.”
Read the article in the Winter 2015 issue of Harriman Magazine.